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The Great Communicator: Michael Jackson

I got a tweet from André Rieu, the well-known violinist and Johann Strauss Orchestra conductor. He was aghast at Michael Jackson’s deathand felt what many did of course. Because André is a musician and performer, however, he felt an especially profound loss. So am I and thus, so did I. Jackson was a prodigious talent and his effect on culture is permanent. As Obi-wan said, “I felt a great disturbance in The Force.”

Michael was a huge force, a superb communicator and storyteller. After all, performing is all about communication, inspiring and moving audiences by generating emotional reactions through (customarily) voice, movement, appearance and content.

As Jackson was a leader in the pop music world, great business leaders are also great communicators who know their job is to influence, motivate and persuade. And giftedness is only part of the story. Great communicators work hard at it, just as Michael did. Following are some of the rules they follow to hone their craft and skill:

Passion: Michael was nothing if not passionate and great leaders are the same. Not just passionate, though, but able to SHOW that passion wherever they are and to whomever they come into contact with. Corporate culture wants to expunge passion from the workplace. Don’t let it.

Planning/Preparation: Years went into planning, preparing and executing shows of the magnitude of Jackson’s.  While that is not necessary for most business communicators, the successful ones know that every contact with others is an opportunity – and they prepare for them all. It’s also part of their business plan, their long-term strategy.

Practice: This is the magic bullet, the one thing that great communicators like Michael Jackson know above all else.  For an upcoming show, he would rehearse and practice for weeks and weeks, many hours every day, every note, lyric and move coordinated to perfection. His goal was to mesmerize us. When you are mesmerized by a great business communicator, know that it’s no accident.

Dress & Adornment: This was part of Michael’s brand and it should be part of yours, too. Unfortunately, standards have gone way down in recent years. They’re also confusing. But every great business leader I know creates a look. Think Steve Jobs in his trademark jeans and black turtleneck. It doesn’t have to be a suit or a dress, but it does have to be consistent with the image you want to project.

Creativity:  Michael Jackson created a unique world of music and performance art. The great business communicators and leaders incorporate artistic flourishes into their outreach because art and creativity are one of the few ways left to differentiate. They try new things, create humanizing workplaces and environments for success. They are nontraditional and lead in unexpected and delightful ways.

Storytelling: Great songs tell stories and Michael Jackson was a consummate storyteller. Great business communicators are always collecting stories and incorporating them. Stories make communication come alive like nothing else.  Stories you can tell occur every day. Don’t let them get away.

Precision/Execution: How in the world did Michael Jackson work that stage for 2 hours, everything perfectly synchronized? He was intentional and precise and he knew how to execute. He had as his goal to give his audiences a night to remember. The great business communicators are precise and intentional in their goals and executiion, too.

Rhythm: We know Michael Jackson had rhythm to spare. But, did you know great business communicators also have rhythm? It’s in their understanding of when to push and when to pull back. It’s in their public speaking when they pepper their talks with stories in just the right places, when they pause to let their audiences take in what they’ve said. Rhythm keeps things moving along.

Collaboration: Michael Jackson didn’t do it alone. He couldn’t, and neither can great business communicators. They need strong teams consisting of members whose opinions they respect and trust. MAJOR TAKEAWAY: The other half of communicating is listening, a critical communication skill that has become increasingly rare.  Michael listened to his audiences.

Why is all this important? Because it fosters connection, the holy grail of communication.

Thank you, Michael Jackson. I’ll miss you.

Copyright 2009 Ruth Sherman. All Rights Reserved.

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